Disclaimer: Harry Potter and its universe belong to J.K. Rowling. I make no claim to any of it with this fanfiction.

A/N: Thanks for the kind reviews. There has been some question as to what 'ship' this fic happens to be... in response, I have prepared two answers.

Answer 1: I refuse to be bound by such misguided notions as 'pairings.'

Answer 2: Wait and see.

Hopefully those, combined with this chapter, will clear up some of the confusion!

- Control -
Chapter VII

The ground shook to a thunderous boom.

Slowly, my eyelids parted and beheld an expanse of shifting twilight. Mindscape.

Strands of golden memory hovered about me, like vultures beset upon a carcass. Each one flashed, showing brief recollections of the previous day with neither order nor reason to their sequence.

I waved my arms wildly to disperse the swarm before pushing myself to my feet.

The ground trembled once more, nearly sending me back to the ground. The hell…? A series of swift glances revealed I was atop one of Azkaban's high battlements, though as I turned from the prison to look out into the sea beyond… Well this isn't good.

An ocean that had once been vivid crimson was now a putrid burgundy. Massive waves crested, slamming into the walls beneath me and shaking the entire citadel to its foundations. Now to figure out what this means… what are you trying to tell me?

For wizards, the subconscious was a critical thing. This was the bastion of emotion, and all of the reason and logic in the world cannot mimic the power of intent born of base desires. The subconscious was also easily misled, unable to discern between what was real and what was imagined. This was almost a crime, as this 'lesser' mind was often the decider of fate.

A wizard's body and core were connected to his conscious mind by his spine, and more importantly the brain stem – the subconscious – that formed the bridge. In this way, an invisible barrier of intent and emotion existed between reality and reason. With sufficient will, introspection, and intervention of magic, it was possible to wield these underlying thought processes. This was known as Occlumency. Almost verbatim from the book.

By manipulating the bridge between mind and reality, Occlumency allowed the construction of mental barriers to defend vital thoughts and memories. Those with sufficient focus could even force their subconscious to suppress pain, as I had done… until that focus was overcome or lost.

The greatest strength of the craft was also one of its greatest problems. The mental arts allowed limited control of subconscious processes, though the conscious mind was never designed to wield it. In an attempt to decipher the indecipherable, reason would yield to imagery and symbolism.

Another burgundy wave crashed into the battlements, shaking free several stones. This has to stop, it must be related to the chimera blood… I was quite annoyed at my Head of House for poisoning me, though even I had to admit I likely would have died had he not intervened.

The sea represented something, this I knew. Could it be—?

My thoughts were interrupted as the swarm of memory from before assaulted me once again. Hissing in annoyance, I slapped the errant strands away… but not before one reached my face. An image of a massive spire of blue metal filled my vision, coupled with the sound of cracking bone and bestial howls.

"Bloody hell, just be gone!" I snapped, a concussive wave blossoming from me as I brought my will to bear. The streamers of energy dispersed immediately, spiraling down into the prison below. I'll sort it later.

"Get me out of here," I commanded of the heavens, frowning as my words met with no response. The sky shifted as it always did, a muted blaze of distant power shrouding a shell of glass. Great, looks like I'm stuck.

An annoyed sound issued from my lips, though it was drowned by the churning sea beyond. Finally I grew tired of the scenery and vaulted into the inner courtyard, shifting and extending my wings to dodge obstructions before finally slamming hard into the floor of the Reliquary. My left hand extended to the floor to catch my balance, only to recoil immediately. What the...?

I stood above the low-hanging fog and inspected my palm, blinking as I beheld what appeared to be... water? The floor is wet...

Raven wings beat twice, stirring the mist and revealing the floor. I stared, eyes unblinking as I beheld shattered stone. Why hasn't this damage been repaired? I recalled inflicting it during the battle with the gargoyles on the night I'd first conjured fiendfyre. Within the indentations left in the cracked masonry, black liquid pooled. And where did the water come from?

A distinct sense of unease settled about me, even as the fog slowly resumed its veil over the ground.

I jumped in surprise as the citadel shuddered slightly, prompting countless adamantine doors to creak on their hinges in an unholy cacophony. Frigid water began to soak my feet, while a sudden gale blew through the high courtyard spans.

Bloody hell I hated the Reliquary.

Launching myself upwards, I seized a ledge and levered myself onto a terrace. After a short walk through an adjoining hallway, I soon found myself heading through one of the prison's many cellblocks. Just forget the water. It's nothing, probably caused by the poison. It'll be gone after I wake up.

The next room I entered was massive, a vaulted ceiling covering a scorched stone floor. On each side, adamantine bars gleamed dully in the low light filtering in from high windows.

My footsteps drew me forward for a long moment as I passed row after row of cells. Finally, however, I came to one which, upon inspection, appeared no different than the others.

At least, it would appear similar to most.

Familiar walls, familiar floor... familiar ceiling. I mused, stepping through the open bars.

I'm free, but Bella is still here. The thought was painful, and caused an instinctual sigh to pass my lips. There has to be a way to free her... rather than play around with dragons. What the fuck am I doing in a tournament while she's caged here? It was a singular moment of revelation, prompting a snarl of self-loathing to escape my lips as I spun and slammed a clenched fist into the nearest wall.

The stone shattered beneath the force of my will, devouring the limb up to my forearm.

"What the fuck am I doing in this Tournament, Bella?" I asked aloud, staring at the stirred dust and debris slowly drifting to the floor. A rational voice rose in my mind, calmly informing me that I had no hope of liberating her without more strength... whether through force of magic or influence of government.

I should have still tried. I should have made the attempt. Instead, I'd dove headfirst into the first test I could find. My curiosity demanded I know the depth of my power... and my pride commanded I show the world the height of it.

Fuck you, Potter. YouMy thoughts were interrupted by a shower of golden sparks. Motes of energy danced from the hole in the wall, twining around my arm before falling to the floor behind me. I ripped myself free from the stone and turned.

I watched impassively as several more strands of memory wiggled free from the walls, stirring the dust as they descended to the floor and exploded into a silent blaze. The flames reformed in moments, creating the image of two bodies crumpled together on the floor.

I don't remember this, but that's not much of a surprise. Quite frankly, well over half of my time spent in Azkaban was an absolute blur to me. The memories all ran together, disjointed and chaotic due to my regular exposure to wardens. It was only after I properly rebuilt my mindscape that my prior, faultless memory had been returned to me.

That still leaves about six months, mostly blanked. I slowly began to circle the two forms crumpled on the floor, observing the smaller one resting with his head in the lap of a witch that would become my lifeline. I wonder when this happened, obviously after we met.

My hand reached out and hesitated before I slowly ran it through Bella's hair. Sparks of gold flickered before my arm began to distort, dissolving away as a pair of violet eyes slowly blinked.

Fine start the show.

A series of hacking coughs wracked a pair of young lungs.

Long, thin fingers slowly worked their way through a mop of dirty black hair in a vain attempt at comfort; the sharp eyes of their owner, however, would remain firmly fixed on some point in space.

"Has ickle Harry been swallowing the dust again?"

"It's not the dust—" The young male's voice was cut off as he descended into another fit of coughing. In a few moments he calmed and spoke again, voice raspy, "I think I'm catching something…"

"If he catches something, he should show it to Bella. She hasn't seen so much as a rat since she came here."

"That's not what I—"

Violet eyes broke their vigil over some unknown target, shifting down to meet another set of emerald. "Ickle Harry is getting sick?"

"Don't worry, I'm f—"

"If he lies to Bella… she's going to hurt him," The woman's voice whispered in typical aloof nature, a stark contrast to the sudden baring of teeth and the promised malice in her eyes.

"It's probably just a cold," The young male sighed, looking up at her for a long moment. "You've been quiet today."

Shifting, the witch slowly lay down against the side of her companion and pressed her face against his neck. "Tell Bella about Privet Drive again."

"I killed my muggle relatives, a few Aurors and got thrown into Azkaban for my—urk!" A sudden, sharp hiss of pain interrupted the young wizard's half-hearted explanation. Slowly, a set of sharpened nails were removed from his abdomen — their tips noticeably tinged in red.

"Bella wants to know more. Tell her… tell her why and how you killed them, each and every one…" The witch whispered, drawing her bloodied nails to her lips and slowly beginning to lick them clean.

The young wizard glared down at her for a long moment before he slowly tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling; his arm subconsciously worked around her back and drew her warmth closer. Eyes closing, he delved into his shattered memory before beginning to speak.

"Dudley and his crew were always chasing me, the fat fucks," The choice of language prompted a sudden giggle to wrack the emaciated witch's frame as her companion continued, "If I weren't so malnourished they probably would have never caught me. I hacked his legs off with a cleaving curse and left him to bleed out."

"Mmm… poetic, Bella likes. What about horsey?"

"Petunia? Heh… I once tried to sneak into the kitchen while she was cooking, she caught me nicking a bag of crisps. So, she scoops out a ladle-full of boiling water and flings it at me. Scalded my entire left arm…"

"Did ickle Harry make the filthy muggle suffer?"

"I struck the bitch square in the chest with an Acid-Burst. It did a fair bit more than scald her."

A sudden, high-pitched cackle broke the lips of the witch, prompting her entire frame to shake as she clutched her fellow prisoner tightly. "Did he enjoy that?"

"Oh yes he did…" The wizard whispered, the smirk on his face a full-blown Cheshire grin by this point.

"Mmm… Bella is so proud. She wishes she had a pensieve. She—" The witch's voice trailed off as her companion began to cough once more. An annoyed noise issued from her lips as slender fingers curled around a shuddering throat and began to squeeze.

"B-Bel... what…" Emerald eyes bulged wide as their owner began to claw at the arm suffocating him, while a dirty female face was split by a slow smile.

"Bella is fixing his problem," Her voice explained lightly before she finally released him, cocking her head as he began to pant for breath. "Better?"

"Well I'm certainly not c-coughing…" The wizard wheezed, giving a dark glare to the witch next to him.

"He's welcome. Bella knows the best remedies. She would have made such a good mother…" Trailing off, a slight frown flickered over her face before a bright smile vanquished it. "Tell her about the fattest muggle."

"Vernon… God I hated him. I can't even put it into words, I just—"

"Hate is strength, ickle one. Hate is primordial power, it need only be… cultivated. Nourished, left to grow."

"I gave it twelve years, it was bloody well grown by then…"

"Tell Bella. Tell her everything…"

"Vernon joined a country club. He couldn't afford it, of course. But he wanted everyone to see what a big-shot he was. How important he was. The fool even took out a loan to pay the fees and purchase a shotgun for the shooting tourna—"

"Shotgun? Bella doesn't know… shotgun."

"It's a muggle weapon that… banishes small pieces of metal at high speeds."

"Mmm… messy. Tell her more."

"He liked to threaten me with it when he was drunk. 'I'll drag you off to a field and pop you good and proper right in that freakish face of yours!'" The young wizard quoted with a look of distaste on his face. "Sometimes I wished he would… I hate that I was so weak."

Silence reigned for a few moments before the witch slowly slid atop her friend, resting her forehead against his and simply gazing into his eyes for a long moment. "Bella understands, ickle one…" Her voice whispered, devoid of its typical teasing tones. "More than he knows…"

"Bella… are you—?"

"Tell her what happens next." The command was sharp and concise.

"…After I killed Petunia, Vernon leveled that shotgun at me. I used an arrow-reversal spell to redirect the shot…" Voice growing progressively more distant, the wizard smiled slightly up at his companion. "Afterwards, as he was lying there with a gut full of lead and crawling towards the gun…"

"Death would be too good for the filthy muggle. Did it suffer? Did it beg ickle Harry for forgiveness?"

"I put him under the Cruciatus."

The witch shuddered, a slow, manic smile spreading over her face as she whispered, "Bella's favorite..."

"I'd never used the spell before, the experience was... it was far too short, actually," The male finished darkly, the look of fond reminiscence on his face dissolving into annoyance, "The Aurors showed up a few seconds later—"

A shrill scream of frustration split the cell as a pair of furious eyes gleamed in madness, "Always! Always the fool Aurors! Always interrupting our fun..."

"Tell me about it," A hoarse voice agreed moments before descending into a new fit of coughing.

"Does Bella need to fix him again?"

"N-No that's... that's fine..."

"Then he continues the story."

"After that I finished Vernon with a cleaving curse, then… made it through two Aurors—"

"—Ickle Harry is skipping again—"

"—and into the street…" The wizard continued, his voice progressively losing its volume until the last words were barely a whisper.

A long, annoyed noise issued from his companion as she leaned her forehead down to lightly drum it against his chest. "Always he stops there… it annoys Bella to no end."

"I shouldn't have… God damn it she should never have been…" Taking his turn to issue a frustrated sound, the smaller prisoner raised an arm and draped it over his face.

Rolling off of him, the witch flung herself onto her back and stretched out for a moment. One long leg slowly rose into the air as a series of filthy toes began to wiggle.

"Bella hates it when he has his pity parties."


"She's tried hurting him. It doesn't work. Maybe she should…" The witch rolled to face her companion once more and smiled slightly. "When ickle Harry killed his muggles…"


"Did he savor every moment? Using the power he'd earned against them, watching them suffer?"

An arm slowly slid downward to reveal a set of emerald eyes, both of them bobbing slightly as their attached head began to nod. "Of course I did."

"How did it feel? To embrace the Dark, to wield true power rather than the mundane drivel of the accepted magic…?"

"It felt… I'd never… felt so alive. So free, for once in my life I was in complete control of my destiny…"

"Mmm. For some, the Dark is vengeance. Others, greed. Most… do not accept it — just as a means to an end. Most never scurry too far from the Light…" The witch's voice grew distant, though somehow in doing so it grew more lucid, "Most who profess allegiance to the Dark are cowards, my ickle one. Too afraid to venture into the shadows, too afraid to trust…"

"Bella… what are you—"

"But some… some of us see the Dark for what it really is…"

"And what is that?"

A slow smile broke the witch's face as she tilted her companion's head to face her. "If ickle Harry was free right now… outside the big, bad Azkaban, what would he do?"

"That's not—"

"Answer her."

Sighing, the wizard stared at the ceiling for a long moment. An arm stretched upwards, the attached hand spreading its fingers and turning the palm downward to bear inspection from its owner's eyes.

"I'd chase that feeling again."

Silence reigned for a long moment.

I stared down at the two now-frozen bodies, watching as they slowly dissolved into a golden mist that trailed past my feet and exited the cell.

"I'd chase that feeling again…" I whispered, echoing my own memory as I turned and slowly walked past the bars. Is that what I've been doing?

I had tried going back to a 'normal' existence after my release. All that did was make me restless. Sitting around the manor for days on end, doing homework. That's not me anymore. My thoughts churned as I drew to a stop in the center of the hall.

Tilting my head up, I beheld the vaulted ceiling of my old prison block. High above were broken windows, the edges of which gleamed with remnants of painted glass long since shattered.

Not for the first time, I considered that this room may have once been a cathedral hall. Azkaban… what happened to me in here?

"What did you do to me?" I asked quietly, still looking up as tiny flecks of dust hung in the air, glistening like fireflies in the few shafts of light that penetrated the windows. "Or was it already done before I arrived…?"

My eyes slid closed, wishing for a moment I could force myself back into unconsciousness and escape this particular moment of self-exploration. Stop being a coward.

Turning suddenly, I started off for one of the huge locks that separated the prison blocks. I'd passed through this portal once before, not long after the death of my warden. This time, no attempt was needed to unbar the door — it merely slid aside at my approach.

Whatever happened to me, whatever I've become… I need release. My endless musings all brought me to the same conclusion. This Tournament provides it, to some degree.

Exiting out onto an exposed walkway, I beheld an ocean of blood. The sea still churned, sprays of burgundy mist drifting about me as I stepped forward. I tilted my head back once more and beheld the sky above.

"You've become hungry, haven't you?" I queried of the heavens.

The shifting inferno lit the sky in shades of ebony and flickers of viridian lightning.

"Perhaps we both have…" I whispered at length, crossing my arms. "A few dozen Acromantulas came close. A dragon, more so but still not quite enough."

A peal of thunder split the sky, streaks of emerald arcing downwards to strike the high battlements as the conflagration above seemed to surge in fury.

"Let's win this Tournament. You and I against whatever comes, as it's always been. And when we're crowned victor… perhaps we'll have the strength to free Bella…" My words started out strong and slowly fell into quiet introspection, though the underlying resolve never truly faded.

In answer to my declaration, massive pillars of shifting twilight plunged downwards from the heavens and struck the sea. Glacial ice spread from each pyre, flash-freezing the churning waters until all was still and all was silent.

Yes. It's time to get back to work.

I leapt from the walkway and strode over the ice to the nearest pillar before calmly stepping into the blaze.

A shadowed veil parted, heralding the opening of my eyes.

My body was completely numb, though feeling slowly began to return as the grip of my magic receded. Did it really take that much to wake me up…? Feels like I was just enervated.

Glancing around, I noticed the ceiling — uncommon yet not unfamiliar — and immediately blew out a sigh. The infirmary. I hate this place. As I pushed myself up into a sitting position, I was forced to stifle a hiss as seemingly every cell in my body complained. …I've never been this sore in my life.

"Fascinating. And I was assured your unconsciousness was refreshed not half an hour previously," A familiar voice offered in typical silken fashion, "Apparently you cannot even follow that instruction without rebellion. It would seem your experiences have done little to absolve you of your more infuriating attributes."

Was that a compliment or an insult? Too many words, I'm still groggy. "Good day to you too, Professor." I muttered to my Head of House, reaching up to slowly rub my temples while my free hand groped at the bedside table nearby in a vain search for my glasses. I feel like shit.

My hand was roughly shoved back into my lap, moments before the item I sought was placed into my palm. Slipping my glasses onto my head, I glanced to my left to find Snape sitting in apparent comfort, reclined in a chair with one leg crossed over the other.

"Any reason I'm still…?"

"I would use the explanation that you are simply an utter dunderhead, though I believe by this point I would sound the broken record. You were intended to stay unconscious until those wounds were better healed," Snape explained simply, standing and walking over to a dresser across the room.

"Why wasn't I just patched up with magic?"

"Again, my typical explanation stands," The man almost drawled, prompting me to fight the urge to hiss. Damn you, be straight with me.

"…How long was I out?"

"Three days… and master your shock, Slytherins do not gawk," I shut my gaping mouth as Snape spoke, watching as he turned and walked back over to my bed. A familiar set of robes were tossed next to me. Three days…? Bloody hell was it that bad?

"Surely it wouldn't take so long—"

"You seem unable to grasp just how closely you've flirted with your own mortality. A Gryffindor trait that I find particularly infuriating," His words were likely intended as an insult, though in truth I was too preoccupied to feel their bite.

I slowly forced myself to my feet, stifling no small amount of grunts and hisses as my body complained.

"Realizing it would be wasted breath to confine you to your bed, I will expect you at breakfast," Snape offered, his arms crossed as he watched me mechanically begin to dress. Three bloody days? Embarrassing.

"Yes, sir," I mumbled, fastening my belt after tucking in my shirt. My body on autopilot, I glanced around and frowned as I sought a few typical items normally equipped at this point.

A series of soft thuds came from the bed; I turned just in time to see Snape toss my wand, watch and potion container onto the mattress. Giving the man a slight nod, I slipped the items onto my person then pulled on my robes. Still missing…

"You do realize blades longer than three inches are prohibited within school grounds?" The man asked idly, still assessing me; he appeared almost conversational in his tone and bearing.

"I never could manage the dicing of potion ingredients with those tiny knives, Professor," I offered, starting to button my robes while fighting the stiffness in my hands — my left arm was a particular problem.

"Indeed, you do seem the type possessed more of brute force than finesse," It wasn't difficult to detect the barely-veiled barb within the man's words, and I cut a glare at him despite myself.

My sharp gaze was rewarded with a mental backhand that only served to make my head ache along with the rest of me. Snape blew out a sigh and reached into his robes, tossing a final item onto the mattress. The cross guard and pommel of my dagger gleamed in the low light, while there was no trace of the prior acid damage on the leather grip.

Did he…? I was unable to suppress the mildly flummoxed look I gave the man.

"I have taken liberty to restock your potion supply as well as repair the blade. Regrettably I'm expected to make some effort into insuring you do not expire in this Tournament, impossible a task it may be. Rest assured that I did, however, send a suitable bill to your financier for my time," Snape finished with the slightest of twitches at the corner of his lips.

I'm sure the price is borderline extortion and I'd best pay it. I thought with annoyance, though outwardly I only gave the man a nod and tried to keep the sarcasm from my voice, "My sincerest gratitude for your services, Professor."

A thoughtful hum answered me, while I took the moment to glance over myself. Potions, dagger, watch, wand… all I'm missing is… My eyes bulged as I instinctively shot a hand to my neck and frowned, then began looking around in near-frantic state. Where is my cloak? The rosary… shit. Shit shit shit!

"To answer the unasked question, Headmaster Dumbledore has taken custody of your garment."

Fuck. A deep, growing anger filled me as I turned to stare at Snape — as our eyes met, he struck me with yet another mental barb.

I held his gaze unblinking, the attack shrugged off as swiftly as it had come. "I expect my property to be returned immediately, Professor."

"And I expect it to be returned at the Headmaster's convenience, and not before."

I bit my lip to the point of tasting copper in a desperate attempt to keep from shouting. My blooming fury did offer some small relief however; a tingle meandered its way up my spine, overcoming much of the soreness in my flesh with a growing numbness. Soon, my anger was mastered and a calm clarity took me.

Hoarfrost began to claim the stonework beneath my feet.

"That item is mine. Neither you nor your master have claim over it. It will be returned," I should have been seething; I should have been bellowing. The soreness in my flesh was completely gone. He's nothing but a puppet like all the rest. If he gets in the way, we'll cut him down. The thoughts were almost alien in their certainty.

Snape's age, his purported strength, his suspected knowledge of darker magics — none of it surfaced in my mind. I had no doubt, at that moment, that I could put him in the ground if I so chose. The frigid locus of energy thrumming in my chest told me so.

"Master yourself, Student. That voice often lies," The words were delivered calmly, though I noticed the slight shifting of his posture. He drew his wand, just under his left arm. My eyes narrowed. And how did he know…?

"No more than you, I'm sure," I quietly replied.

"You are sure of nothing. You merely believe that you are," Snape replied dismissively, shaking his head — though his eyes never strayed from mine. "You have spent far too much time around that witch. You are beginning to display some of her more infuriating quirks."

What? "Who are you talking—?"

"You know well of whom I speak. I was given the opportunity to peruse your prison report."

Bella. "You knew her?" I asked slowly, my building curiosity beginning to overcome the murderous serenity that held me. Realizing this, Snape shifted his posture again. Holstered his wand.

"Regrettably. She is the only one I've known who could match you for your stupidity in the magics you employed three days prior," The man murmured, assessing me with his gaze for a long moment. "To this point, I had thought her the only witch or wizard in the modern country foolish enough to wield their own lifeblood as a weapon."

Blood magic? She never mentioned it… that I can recall, at any rate. "…What are you talking about, Professor?" At my confused expression, my Head of House shook his head..

"I've spoken too much. Speak to the Headmaster in regards to your garment," Snape finished at length, and I nodded distractedly as I stepped past him for the doors. No point trying to get any more information out of him. Indeed, the older wizard had lost the demeanor he'd held earlier and replaced it with his typical stony visage.

"I'll go do that right now," I offered instead, pushing down my confusion and focusing on the earlier indignation. I have to recover the cloak before they find the rosary

"That will prove rather difficult, as he is indisposed at the Ministry today… and before you so much as think it, I highly doubt he left such an item in his office. Not that you would be foolish enough to blast your way into such a restricted area," The man's silken drawl at the end set my teeth to grinding. Well shit, so much for that idea.

"Of course not Professor, to do so would be the height of folly," I replied in a tightly controlled voice that dripped of sarcasm despite my best efforts.

"Indeed, see that you remember it. Also, Madam Pomfrey will likely have words for you when she returns, which should be…" Snape trailed off as the doors to the infirmary opened. Speak of the devil.

"What in Merlin's name are you doing out of bed?"

Damn that man. And that mediwitch.

Currently, I was walking through a series of hallways on the way to breakfast.

My body complained with each step, reminding me of Pomfrey's rather impassioned tirade. I thought she'd never shut up. Once I'd explained, for the fifth time and with depleted patience, that I was not getting back into that bed… she'd finally saw fit to release me. Snape could have perhaps assisted me in the argument — had he not left immediately after the mediwitch's entrance.

What was it she said… oh yes. Apparently the reason for my soreness and general pathetic state was due to the magics employed in my recovery. So-called triage magics, as Pomfrey had explained, used a series of magical fields not dissimilar to wards. These fields pushed internal tissues back into their normal place, allowing a wizard's innate healing capacity to handle the injury.

This was why I was supposed to stay in bed for another few days, preferably unconscious. Bollocks to that.

Of course, the reason for this treatment rather than more traditional, faster methods was due to my magic resisting her attempts at seemingly every interval… as she'd informed me no less than ten times. The absolute worst patient she's ever had… I believe I'll bear the title with pride.

The final complicating issue was the chimera blood used to over-stimulate my aforementioned natural healing capability. While the vile liquid had coaxed my external lacerations to close, it had wreaked havoc on my organs. Pomfrey never outright said it, but I suspected by her insistence I check in regularly for diagnostics… that there were possible lasting complications. It's still better than being dead.

Turning a corner, I made the mistake of stretching and didn't bother to hide a hiss of pain. It was proving difficult to completely master my discomfort, Occlumency or not. My head's all screwed up, too much shit happened before I had time to center myself. I hadn't had time to process the new challenges and revelations of the last half-hour. Dumbledore has the relics. Snape knew Bella. Bella once wielded blood magics. I'll… deal with it all later. Right now…

It wasn't like me to push problems down the line, but one overriding concern had begun to make itself known a short time previously. As such, I decided to tend to the most immediate of my litany of problems.

Bloody hell I was hungry.

At least this problem is easy to fix. I thought dryly, approaching the doors to the Great Hall and absently gesturing my wand. I feel like hotcakes, I wonder if… why are they all staring?

As the large doors opened with a crack, every eye in the school turned to stare at me. I was halfway through glaring individually at all of the assembled masses when the first sound finally came.

Someone clapped.

Who the fuck was that? They're dead. Dead! It had come from the Slytherin table's direction, though I was foiled in my attempts to find the original culprit… as the rest of the table soon erupted into applause. Durmstrang joined in moments later, followed sporadically by the rest of the room. I hate you all.

A familiar discomfort squirmed within my breast due to the attention, though I grit my teeth and stalked my way over towards my house's table. This is embarrassing. A set of wide green eyes caught my attention for a moment; Daphne was sitting at her usual place, staring at me mouth-agape. Davis waved me over, while Zabini gave me a dry look and sarcastically clapped.

"All of you sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up!" I hissed to the table, glaring murder upon each and every occupant before I finally sat in my typical seat. My outburst was enough to silence the rest of my house, and without their over-enthusiastic leadership the rest of the hall thankfully quieted. This morning has been shit enough already without this lot contributing.

"I swear if I find out who started that debacle I will slaughter them. With this fucking spoon," I muttered darkly, brandishing the silverware in question to punctuate the threat before beginning to serve my plate.

"Yup, he's fine. Told you Daph."

"He does certainly seem unharmed… if in a bit of a mood."

"It's Potter. Par for the course, really."


"Leaving it! So, how—"

"Harry…" A voice started softly to my left, drawing my gaze, "Are you alright…?"

"I'm fine. Pass the hotcakes."

Daphne appeared not to notice my latter command, nodding slowly to herself as she closed her eyes and took a deep, slow breath. What's wrong with her? I raised an eyebrow, but was cut off as a hefty stack of my prize was placed before me.

"Here ya go!" Davis offered with a bit too much cheer for my liking… then again, it was rather early and I was rather sore. I gave her the barest of nods and piled my plate high.

A hand slowly grasped my left sleeve, prompting me to glance at the blonde witch next to me once more. She said nothing, merely drawing my arm into her lap and simply… holding it; her eyes were still closed. I considered tugging it free. It's still sore anyway, doubt I'd get much use out of it.

Shrugging at length, I set about the destruction of my first meal in several days with my free hand.

"You will probably be pleased to know that—" Zabini started.

"You're in the lead! Number one!" Davis finished brightly, prompting an annoyed sound from the wizard on my other side.

"Of course I am. Pass the syrup."

"Mm-hmm. So uh, why were you in the infirmary so long?"

"Pomfrey kept me unconscious. I wasn't given the chance to leave."

"So the hospital harpy has finally decided to clear you?"

"No, Zabini. I left."

"I thought you said—"

"So many scars…" A quiet voice murmured, breaking our conversation despite the low tone that delivered it. As we all looked to Daphne, I found she'd pulled back my left sleeve to display my forearm… and the long, twisted marks where bone had once protruded.

The scars were not normal to my eyes; I could see the barest S-shaped marks repeated in concert along the length of the disfigurements. I recalled the swarm of black, mutated worms that had stitched the flesh together… and had to fight the urge to grimace.

"I said I was fine," I murmured at length.

An absent nod was the only reply I received.

"So… Hogsmeade weekend! Anything special planned for today?" Davis offered into the silence.

I'm low on lemon drops. I thought after a moment, giving Daphne one last look before returning to my breakfast. Though I hardly have time for it. I need to figure out how to get the relics back.

"Restocking supplies, purchasing a new quill and looking into having a few garments altered at a reputable tailor," Zabini murmured.

Not to mention figuring out what Snape meant when he suggested Bella was a practitioner of blood magic…

"Bo~oring. We should… I don't know… do something fun!"

"If you so much as suggest that hellish Zonko's—"

And last but not least… find a book on chimaera. I need to know what ill effects I may still experience.

"Oh come on Blaise, it was an accident."

"You put five of them into my robes!"

Any tome with relevant information is probably considered Dark and illegal. I may end up having to make a trip to Knockturn.

"It was our first trip, and you were being a stick in the mud like usual. You were just begging for an accident or two."

"It took fourteen hours for those brands to disappear!"

And… if Dumbledore found the rosary

"Stop," The voice was barely a whisper, and unheard by the other two members of our quartet. I gave Daphne a mildly annoyed look for interrupting my thoughts.


"You're thinking too much about something. Just stop and… rest."

"You're not my keeper, Daphne."

Shaking her head at length, the blonde witch blew out a sigh. "You're done eating, aren't you?" Not waiting for a reply, she stood and tugged on my arm. "Come on, we'll go to the dorms, then we have to get to the gates by ten."

My first instinct was to resist, though something about the look in her eyes broke my usual petulance. Fine.


After a welcome shower and change of clothes, the four of us found ourselves walking through the dungeons towards the school gates.

The other wizard and I had opted for a set of robes, though of better cut than the Hogwarts-issue. Daphne had changed into a white sundress, while Davis… was wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

Zabini looked absolutely mortified and appeared embarrassed to be seen in public with her.

Daphne had been hovering for the better part of the last hour; even now she held my left arm in a loose grasp. While I was mildly thankful she wasn't squeezing the tender flesh, I was equally annoyed that she saw fit to treat me as porcelain.

"I hope we see them…"

"See who?"

"Oh, sorry. Thinking out loud!" Davis offered, her eyes scanning the few milling crowds of students we passed.

"You're developing Daphne's habits."

"Oh be quiet Blaise… there!" I was in the process of tuning out their conversation when a hand gripped my right sleeve. Why in the hell am I always being "Look, um…" Davis continued, faltering slightly.

"…What are you doing, Trace?"

"I just need to borrow him for a minute!"

"How about you both just release m—"

"What do you want him for?" Daphne looked suspicious.

"Um… just trust me! It'll only be a minute! Heh, come on now… just… come… on…" The smaller witch started to grunt as she pulled on my arm. I stared at her, glancing around at the few crowds watching before finally gritting my teeth. No point making a scene. This had better be good.

Allowing myself to be pulled a short distance away, I waved off Daphne and Zabini before pointedly pulling my right arm out of the other half-blood's clutches. Giving me an exasperated look, the witch put her hands on her hips and pouted. I'd love to hit her right now.

"What is this about, Davis?"

"Call me Tracey!"


"I need you to call me Tracey for this to work. You know, all friendly like!"

"What in the hell are you on about now?"

"Nothing at all, Harry! Look, just play along okay?"

"And allow you to take liberties with—"

"'Take liberties?' Good God, you're starting to sound like Blaise! Come on."

This had better be fucking good. I grit my teeth and forced one foot in front of the other, though my gait likely appeared more a stalk than a walk.

Davis led me to a group of two students, though I wasn't sure of their house affiliation due to their muggle clothing. They appeared younger however — Third Years, by my reckoning. Possibly related, as well… Despite being opposite sex, they both had similar facial structure and hair color.

"Hey guys! Remember what we talked about? Well, Harry and I thought we'd come see you about it."

The young witch and wizard cut their eyes to me, and the sheer quantity of fear in their eyes went a long way towards mollifying my annoyance. Backing away… Definitely cowards. Probably Ravenclaws.

"Now now, no worries guys! Harry is quite docile, actually. Such a gentle soul," Davis continued, prompting me to snort — at the sound, the two siblings both jumped. This is sad. Kind of funny, though.

"Just… leave us alone, Tracey… we don't h-have…" The younger wizard was trying; he even went so far as to take a hesitant step in front of his sister. How touching.

"Oh come on, both of you out here waiting to head to Hogsmeade? Now now… I don't think you should hold out on your friends like this. What do you think, Harry?"

I think this is ridiculous. "Are we done yet?"

Davis gave me an exasperated look, though I doubted her two targets saw it. They were too busy staring at me like frightened rabbits.

I was doing my damndest to resist shouting 'boo'.

"Please Tracey, just…" The witch whispered from behind her brother — it was barely audible.

"Oh, you want us to bugger off? No problem! Just, you know, that thing we talked about. We'd like to head off to Hogsmeade ourselves now, you see. Harry and I have a busy day. We being such good friends and all, right Harry?"

Unbelievable. I stared at Davis for a long moment. Fuck it, I don't feel like fighting this.

She did need to be disciplined, however.

"Absolutely, my good friend Tracey," I offered conversationally, going so far as throwing an arm around the shorter witch's shoulders and squeezing her to my side.

Tightly. A bone in her shoulder popped in complaint, though she hid her distress… barely.

"Y-Yeah. So…?" Davis held out a hand and offered a shaky smile.

The brother glanced between us before giving me a pleading look. I gave him my best grin — the Cheshire one, with teeth. I'm a gentle soul. Really.

After a wince, a fearful shudder and a moment spent digging into his pockets, the young wizard finally placed a handful of galleons into Davis' hand.

"…Can we go…?" The voice was meek and dejected.

"Yup! Thanks guys."

They may as well have ran away.

"So…" I offered idly.

"Um… will you let go? This kinda really hurts…"

"You just used me to extort a pair of Third-Years for a few galleons."

"Well, yeah. I wanted some spending money."

Wanted some… I closed my eyes and released her before removing my glasses and rubbing my temples. Why do I associate with these

"Ha! Twelve galleons. Pretty good haul," Davis continued gleefully to herself.

"You're buying lunch," I muttered.

"I can probably… wait, what? You guys are loaded, Daph or Blaise always pay for—"

"Davis," I growled quietly, putting my glasses back on and glaring at her.

"But… y-you and Blaise eat like horses! I'll be lucky to break even!"

" You. Are. Fucking. Buying. Lunch."

"Ugh, some bloody business model this was…"

"It's nice having a carriage to ourselves."

"I agree. Potter's presence is providing dividends."

"Blaise, that's not–"

"Speak for yourself," Davis muttered, giving me a look.

Snorting, I turned to look out a nearby window as our transport meandered its way towards Hogsmeade. Despite the autumnal season and the typical overcast sky, the day itself was fairly warm.

The reason for the aforementioned clouds became quite clear as a trio of wardens circled nearby.

"…Then you do something like this and remind me just how much of a kid you really are."

The sudden flare of memory prompted a sharp intake of breath, moments before my eyebrows plummeted into an expression of hate. Fucking wardens. What a day to be without the rosary.

"Do they really have to fly so close…?" Daphne asked quietly, leaning against me to watch the circling wraiths.

I wonder what Tonks is doing…? I realized with some semblance of shame that I hadn't even thought of the Auror today. Probably still not talking to me. Wonder if they kept that bloody dragon's head? I'll mail it to her as a gift.

"Tell me they're not gonna follow us to Hogsmeade. I mean, how am I going to enjoy myself when all I can think of is… uh…" Davis trailed off, her voice losing volume.

"I doubt they'll enter the town," I offered quietly, wishing the carriages would move faster. Without my hard-won relics, I felt exposed out here. Vulnerable.

Almost subconsciously, I slid a hand to my neck and grasped the collar of my robes. Before anything else, I have to get them back. Not to mention the Dark Arts tomes… they're in the cloak, too. The muscles in my face tightened. Careless. Fucking careless.

"If they do venture into the town, I'll expect you to deal with them. They're—"

"Leave it, Zabini."

My mood continued to deteriorate for the remainder of the trip, and the stilted conversation in the carriage was plain evidence of it. Finally, however, we drew to the edge of Hogsmeade and the carriage door opened of its own accord.

I leapt down without regard for my injuries, and issued a stifled hiss as I clutched my abdomen. Pathetic. I should have stayed at the castle. Why in the hell am I even out here?

"Are you alright?" Daphne asked as she drew up beside me and hesitantly rested a hand on my elbow.

"I'm fucking fine!" I snapped with more vitriol than I meant to the audience.

There was silence for a moment, as a pair of emerald eyes blinked. They weren't mine.

Zabini finally decided to change the subject, "I'm pleased to see that you decided not to wear that tattered garment today. You're almost presentable, unlike—"

"Leave it," My voice was barely a whisper, and the only person to hear it continued to stare at me.

"Hey, we're out of school. I'm not gonna march around in those stuffy ass robes if I don't have to!"

"There is nothing wrong with a well-tailored set of robes, Tracey."

"Yeah, whatever. Despite them costing a bloody fortune and making you look ridiculous. I mean, at least Potter had the decency to cover his up with that old rag he wore. I could at least pretend he was as poor as I was, but now—"

I lost it.

My left arm shot out without regard for the injury and seized Davis' throat, while I shoved my wand into her mouth once again. I bared my teeth, though my expression was far from a grin.

"H-Harry!" Daphne shouted.

"I said to fucking shut up. Why can't you shut up? Tell me Tracey, what do you think will happen if I summon your lungs right now? Will that work?" I snarled into her face, staring right into her eyes as the faintest green sparks illuminated her teeth from within her mouth.

The witch in my grasp appeared on the edge of faint — her eyes were wide and she shook uncontrollably. She didn't even bother to clutch at the hand around her neck; instead, she raised her own hands in surrender to my mercy.

My insides slowly suffused with cold. "Maybe I should just transfigure your tonsils into spiders. Would that also be effec—?"

"Stop it, Harry," Daphne murmured quietly, grasping my wand arm and pulling it away from Davis before shoving herself between us.

"Eager for your fucking turn, Greengrass?"

"Yes," The reply was immediate, and her expression never altered. My hand slowly released her friend's throat before reaching for the blonde witch's own.

Daphne never broke my gaze as my fingertips brushed her bare neck. What are you doing, Potter? I asked of myself suddenly, closing my eyes and blowing out a long breath. The numbness within me began to ebb away with my floundering anger.

"Why don't you two go on ahead, and we'll catch up?" The witch before me asked quietly, though I didn't bother opening my eyes.

"Come, Tracey," Zabini's words were quiet as the sound of two sets of footsteps, one steady and the other irregular, began to slowly fade into the distance.

I have to calm down. It's… not their fault. It's mine. I admitted bitterly, though I'd never speak the thoughts aloud.

"Come on… we made a scene, let's get out of here," Daphne murmured, taking my arm and starting to lead me away from the small crowd that had gathered near the carriage drop-off. I didn't bother to resist as I was led outside of Hogsmeade.

Our walk lasted perhaps a full five minutes in complete silence. Finally, however, we drew to a stop on a small, grass-covered glen some distance from the town.

"How's your arm?" My company asked after a moment.

Sore as fuck. "It's fine."

Daphne issued a sigh before lowering herself to sit and tucking her legs beneath her. Offering me a slight smile, she patted the grass next to her. "Join me?"

I glanced at the ground and immediately grimaced; I didn't exactly look forward to getting all the way down there and back up in my condition. Let's try this instead.

Raising my right arm, I drew my wand and leveled it at the grass a few feet away. I want somewhere to sit. Handle it. There was no imagined outcome, no incantation, no proper spell invoked. I merely commanded of my magic, twisted my wand and focused on the shifting flames just behind my eyelids.

A distortion sphere pulsed from my wand and struck the earth, moments before a forest of dull metal wires erupted forth from the grass. There were thousands of strands, each moving independently — I was momentarily struck with fascination.

If I focused on one individual wire, I could force it to move or perform in any which way I desired. The legion of others, however, remained outside my conscious control. Slowly, the strands interwove themselves into a vague facsimile of a high-backed chair.

The construct was rough in the extreme, with frayed wires jutting from the rear and sides. The seat and back, however, consisted of smooth, woven metal bundles; it appeared sound. With only a moment of trepidation, I lowered myself and sat.

There was a series of creaks from the wires as they compressed slightly, though the magic held. I allowed myself a slight sigh as I relaxed.

"…I had no idea you were so good at transfiguration."

I cut my eyes to Daphne and gave her a bemused look.

Responding with a wince, the witch issued a self-deprecating chuckle. "Yes, that was a stupid thing to say. After the way you killed that dragon…"

At least this didn't require a sacrifice of blood. I thought suddenly, inspecting one of the armrests of my impromptu chair. Looks like iron, maybe low-grade steel. Nothing exotic.

"So… perhaps an encore?" I glanced up at Daphne's words, raising an eyebrow as I found the witch now standing with her hands clasped behind her back. She inclined her head towards my recent feat of magic, and it took me a moment to realize her intent.

A gesture of my wand followed, extending the side of my seat another few feet.

The witch sat with typical pureblood fanfare, drawing her legs beneath her and smoothing her dress before preening her long blonde hair. At least she's quiet… for the most part. Of our quartet, I'd have to confess Daphne was the most amenable to be around.

Or perhaps she merely knew me well enough so as to better avoid pushing my buttons.

"Did you make this with Dark magic?" Daphne asked after a moment.

I don't know. "Probably."

"Interesting… I didn't know it came in forms so... mundane."

"Anything your magic can do, mine can do better."

A sudden, high pitched laugh managed to set my teeth to grinding as the witch gave in to some sudden fit of mirth. Covering her mouth, the blonde finally succeeded in reigning in her amusement. I take back what I said. She's just as

"I'm sorry, I doubt you even realize how pompous you sound half the time. It's actually quite endearing," Daphne offered with a smile, leaning back once more and turning slightly to face me.

"…Whatever," I muttered, looking away from her and casting my gaze out at the forest some distance beyond us. I need to get out there and curse something at some point. Might make me feel better.

There were a few moments of silence before the witch next spoke.

"What really happened, Harry? You were in the infirmary for three days, and Pomfrey barely let us visit you. Snape said you collapsed…"

I tensed. "He actually said that?"

"Only to the House. As far as the rest of the school knows, you were grudgingly forced to stay in the medical wing for tests."

That's better… barely. Offering a slight nod, I leaned my head back and inspected the overcast sky. My lips pulled back in distaste as I spotted a warden high above.

"I hate them," I offered quietly.

"The dement— err, wardens?"


"You certainly have reason to, after all you—"

"Do you think I could kill it right now?" I interrupted quietly. My voice was low, aloof… distant. I could… I know I could.

"Harry… dementors are immortal. You know th—"

"I killed one before."

Daphne blinked, staring at me as her mouth fell open. I continued to gaze up at the sky, my eyes never breaking their vigil over my shrouded target. I could get a new cloak, a new rosary…


"Anything can be destroyed if you hate it enough."

"Is that some Dark magic tenet?

Who knows. "Probably. Trust me, it's true."

"I see…"

"I killed my warden while I was in Azkaban. I took its vestments and I took its heart. Or, at least, what equates to it. Dumbledore has them now."

"You mean that cloak you always…? Sweet Merlin, Harry! That… it's a Dark artifact… you can't just—"

"Can't what?" I asked, suddenly bemused. "Can't wear it, for fear it'll suddenly swallow my soul or something ridiculous? It's mine. I won it in combat. It's a trophy… and it's bound to me."

"Still…" Daphne sighed, raising a hand and calmly rubbing her eyes. "Bloody Merlin this whole time we've been sitting next to you while you were wearing… wait, is that why the wardens don't bother you?"

She's sharp. "Yes. And it's why the dragon didn't roast me."

"…I see, that's why you want it back…"

"It also has a few Dark Arts tomes in it," I added cheekily, mostly just to see her reaction. Daphne knew enough damning secrets about me, what was a few more?

The witch threw her hands up and shook her head. "You're unbelievable. The first rule of contraband is to never keep it all in the same place, to avoid compounding penalties if—"

"Smuggler's daughter," My accusation was hardly biting due to my grin.

"Of course, my earliest memory is Father forbidding me to grow up a fool. Or a Ministry bureaucrat," Daphne added with a slight smile. "Are you feeling better?"

I blinked at her last question, narrowing my eyes at her. …Yes. "Devious witch."

The answering smirk on her face was far too wide for my liking. "Flatterer."

We stared at each other for a long moment, before I simply couldn't help it.

I threw my head back and laughed.

The mirth had come suddenly, after my mind had a free moment to go over the last several lines of ridiculous conversation. Bloody hell it's been a while since I've laughed.

I sobered some time after Daphne's own joining laughter faded, and we sat in companionable silence for several moments.

"You know, I've been meaning to do something all day. In fact, I would have done it at breakfast if it wouldn't have caused a scene," The witch offered idly.

My first impulse was sarcasm, but I wasn't in the mood to ruin our good humor. Instead, I simply prompted, "Oh?"

In response, Daphne slid over in her seat and put both arms around me. I tensed on instinct from the embrace.

"I'm glad you're alright, but if you scare me like that again I'm going to hurt you," The witch whispered into my ear, all smiles. …She sounded like Bella for a minute.

"And how would you manage that?" I asked, just to be adversarial.

The blonde finally leaned back and released me, arranging her skirt once again and preening her hair… once again.

"Just trust that I have my ways."

I snorted. "Right. So you dragged me out here to calm me down and then take liberties with my person. What else?"

Daphne shook her head and issued a stifled sound somewhere between a giggle and an answering snort.

"Maybe I just wanted to spend some time with you."

"Now I'm suspicious."

"You're always suspicious. Par for the course, as Trace says."

I grimaced. Almost forgot about her.

"You scared her, you know," The witch offered quietly.

"She talks too much."

"She doesn't mean anything by it. I know she's annoying… but I saw the sparks Harry. Would you have really…?"

I don't… maybe… "I wouldn't have harmed her. I was just shutting her up."

"…Of course. I trust you," Daphne murmured, though her eyes made me doubt the full truth of her last statement.

I turned away from her, closing my eyes and tilting my head back. The wind was picking up, a chilled breeze that warred with the warmth of the day. Typical autumn… I drew a deep breath, drawing in the crisp scent of the air. Reminds me of T That thought was terminated with prejudice. Best I don't think of her.

Daphne shivered suddenly, "I should have known not to wear this dress. Bloody climate can't decide what it wants to do."

"It's the witch of November."

"Don't you dare try to blame this on us."

"Whatever…" I trailed off as I glanced down at the makeshift seat we were both using. The wires were beginning to grow cold, though I doubted it was from the wind. The dull metal began to develop a frosted sheen.

Just like… I stood swiftly.

"Where are you going?" The blonde asked, cocking her head.

"Just getting up before it happens."

"…Before what happens?"

"The transfiguration is failing."

Daphne's eyes went wide as she struggled to stand, though her carefully arranged skirt got in the way of her motion; the forest of wires beneath her flickered silver and dissolved into dust just as she untangled herself. The witch fell flat on her ass with a loud yelp.

For the second time that day, I burst into laughter.

"I'm still amazed you paid for lunch."

"So am I… Trace, I told you we'd cover it—"

"It was… um, nothing Daph! I, uh… wanted to, really…"

We were in a carriage on the way back to the castle after a few hours spent in Hogsmeade.

Davis was sitting diagonal from me, and kept giving me nervous glances. Daphne said she'd 'take care of her,' whatever that meant.

"Well, we appreciate it. All of us," Daphne emphasized the last word, giving me a hard look when I grunted. "All of us." Lay off me, I paid for it. Technically.

"No worries! We're all friends here… right?" This is getting annoying.

I was probably expected to apologize.

Fuck that.

"Of course we are, Trace. And Harry is sorry for earlier."

My head snapped towards Daphne so quickly my neck popped. I paid the discomfort no mind. What the hell? The blonde witch next to me gave me a cool look that commanded silence.

"Um… he is?"

"Yes. You know how he is, he can't articulate his feelings. But he's very sorry, he told me himself."

"The hell I—" I started before Daphne's nails dug into my left arm. Mother fu

"Do shut up, Harry. It's alright, we understand."

She's probably still pissed off about landing on her ass earlier. She waited this damned long to get back at me? Slytherin witches were bloody vindictive… and patient.

I didn't notice it at first, but I was now quite sure Zabini was snickering.

"Anyway… you forgive him, don't you Trace?"

"Oh, uh…" Davis looked at me for a moment, though I was too busy alternating my glare between the two purebloods among us. "Of course. Yup, all forgiven! Heh, I probably had it coming, huh?"

"Damn straight you d—" I trailed off into a hiss as sharpened nails dug deeper into my limb.

Daphne gave me one last, far too self-satisfied smirk before leaning back away from me and nodding her head. I'll have to fix her later. She's getting far too uppity lately.

"Well, that's all settled then. Now, when we get back to the castle…" I tuned the blonde witch out, tilting my head to the side and looking out of the carriage.

My chest was starting to grow constricted, much to my chagrin. The discomfort was defying all my attempts to block it out with Occlumency. I need to heal faster. Fuck chimaera… and dragons.

Our transport began to slow as it approached the main gates; they were flooded with several dozen milling students and a line of carriages waiting to disembark. I'm not dealing with this.

"Daph, do we really have to do the library thing on our day off?"

"Yes. You're barely passing Charms as it is, not to mention… Harry? Where are you—?"

I shoved the door open and jumped out, starting out in a brisk walk towards the west ramparts. I'll just use the side entrance, fuck that circus up front.

The sound of hurried footsteps behind me prompted a sigh. Great, my entourage decided to come along. Lovely.

"Must you always walk so swiftly? The world isn't going anywhere, Potter."

"It is if I have anything to say about it."

"…Um, what did that mean?"

"Don't worry about it, Davis," I muttered, putting a hand discretely over my midsection. I feel like I've gone a round with Vernon.

Daphne pulled up beside me, giving me a significant look as she glanced at my hand. I shook my head discretely, and challenged her with my eyes to so much as mention it.

"The squib could at least trim the grass."

"Yeah, Filch is really letting this place go. Then again, we're not exactly on any paths…"

"Leave it, Trace."

"She's developing his speech patterns."

"Creepy, isn't it? I mean… wow, what's with the bigwigs?"

Our eyes followed Davis' pointing finger to indeed reveal what appeared to be nearly half a dozen Ministry officials. They were walking out towards the grounds, flanked by several Aurors.

I spotted Dumbledore in their midst. The hand clutching my stomach clenched into a fist, and I took the first step to stalk after him.

That is, until I saw… She's…?

"That Auror is coming over here…"

"Yeah, she looks pissed too… quick Potter, look innocent!"


"…I feared our association with him would lead us into legal trouble. I warned you of this, Daphne."

"Oh for Merlin's sake, Blaise…"

I paid their conversation little mind. My feet drew me forward slowly. She's actually here… At that moment, I completely forgot I was well within my rights to be quite ticked off at her.

As we drew closer, Tonks' eyes flickered green for a moment before offering me a small smile; I returned it without thinking. Maybe now she'll actually

She slammed her fist into my face.

"Urk" I grunted, stumbling back from the force of the blow and tripping on a rock hidden by the grass. I tumbled to the ground, instinct alone gathering my limbs beneath me to push me back up to my feet.

"H-Harry!" I barely heard Daphne in the background; Tonks advanced on me with a hard expression on her face.

"Look, I don't know what the fuck—" I started.

The next left hook was totally uncalled for, and once again sent me sprawling to the ground. God damn it! "What the fuck was that for?"

"The first one was because you're a git. The second one was because you got up too damned fast from the first one."

Fine, I'll just sit on my ass for a minute. I spit blood from my split lip before giving the Auror an exasperated look, though I was cut off from speaking as a blonde witch arrived and placed herself between us.

"What in Merlin's name is wrong with you?" Daphne all but shrieked.

"Butt out of this, kid. Harry and I are having a talk."

"She's awesome!"

"Quiet, Tracey. Best we stay out of it."

"Talking? The way I see it, you're just acting like some muggle thug!"

"It's a language he understands, the bloody—"

"Shut up. I don't know who you are, Auror, but you can't just attack a student! I'll have your—"

"Look, Miss Priss—" Tonks' hair began to flicker into shades of red and orange.

Daphne's face morphed into some semblance of shock, before she grit her teeth and dove headlong into a dimension of 'Diva mode' I'd never before seen.

"Shut up! What did you call me? You, you… carrot-topped amazon!"

"Carrot…? Kid, you're pissing me off. Seriously, butt out of this one. I need to have a talk with the git there."

"Um… she does realize we're the same age as him, right…?"

"You say something, Red?"

"N-No! Nothing miss Auror-ma'am!"

"I don't know what malfunction has infested your infantile mind, Auror, but you're not going to go around assaulting people!"

The whole thing had me struck speechless, in the manner one might view a train wreck.

"God… alright, listen to me you infuriating little twit, I can hit him as much as I want after—"

"He's injured!"

Tonks blinked, cutting her eyes to me. "He's…?"

"I'm fine," I offered idly. It was almost true; all of the excitement had taken my mind off of my injuries, despite a certain witch's best attempts to add more to the list.

The metamorph raised a hand and rubbed her temples. "Look… Harry, we need to talk. Alone."

"You're not taking him anywh—"

"I agree," I replied, glancing at the flush-faced witch next to me. "Don't," I added quietly.

Daphne's face was a mask of distaste as she bared the faintest hint of teeth. "Fine. Do whatever you want with the amazon, we're leaving," The witch bit out, giving one last hateful glare at Tonks before stalking away. Davis and Zabini walked a wide path around us before doing the same.

Finally, I pushed myself to my feet and dusted off my robes. Well… that was an absolute debacle.

"I didn't miss all the teenage drama in this place… are you really hurt?"

"I'm f—"

"Just don't say it," Tonks sighed, approaching me before hesitantly pulling me into an embrace. I leaned into her on impulse as her arms tightened. "I'm sorry for…"

"For ignoring me, hitting me, or for something else I don't know about?" I muttered, not about to deny myself the guilt trip after the day I'd had.

"…Yeah, I deserved that. For all of it, Harry," The witch muttered dejectedly into my ear. Well at least she sounds sincere. I allowed my arms to return the hug.

"Don't worry about it."

"I didn't know you were ruddy hurt… that Snape git said there was nothing wrong with you. Even Dumbledore acted like there wasn't anything to worry about. I figured…" Tonks trailed off, and I fought the urge to grunt. I'm really not surprised.

"You figured I killed the dragon without issue then didn't bother to tell you I was alright?"

"I sent you four bloody letters after I heard about the Task, you—" The arms about me tightened into a rather uncomfortable squeeze; finally, the witch attached to them blew out a cleansing breath and relaxed. "Calm down, Tonks girl…"

"It's cute when you talk to yourself."

"Quiet," Tonks muttered, leaning back and raising her wand to unleash a salvo of blue-white charms over my person. None of the healing spells were especially powerful, though they did relieve some of the pressure in my chest. Fixed my lip too. How thoughtful. I thought dryly.

"I was held captive in the infirmary for the last few days, I'm not sure who has my mail," I started to explain.

"Yeah, I get it now. Anyway… ugh just come on, my boss keeps looking up from down there and frowning," Tonks grabbed my sleeve and pulled me along into the castle. Her boss…? A glance revealed a dark-skinned Auror that looked mildly familiar, though I couldn't make out his face from this distance. Maybe I need a new prescription for these glasses.

"Aren't you supposed to be on duty?"

"I told Kingsley I might have some personal business to take care of while I was here. He said it wasn't a problem. Probably didn't know what I meant, though."

Kingsley… Shacklebolt? The one from Azkaban? Small world. "I'm sure they're not happy with you trotting around with a—"

"If you finish that, I'm hitting you again."

"…Right. So… are you doing well?"

"You're just as terrible at conversation as always," Tonks offered, though her voice was a bit lighter than earlier. She started to guide me towards the main stairwells, and we began to ascend the castle. Never liked these swinging stairways.

"You were always the bubbly one. I was the smart one."

"No, you were the antisocial bugger who read too many bloody books."

"Again, I was the smart—"

"Yeah, whatever," The Auror muttered, though I could detect a slight smile on her face as we walked. Didn't realize how much I missed her. Or maybe I had, and hadn't wanted to admit it.

"You wouldn't happen to know what they did with that dragon's corpse, would you?" I asked after a moment while we waited for a staircase to align itself. "I'm thinking of having its head mounted. Maybe above the mantle…"

"…You're such an…" Tonks trailed off and blew out a frustrated sound. "And don't get me started on what you did. They said you used fiendfyre! Have you lost your ruddy mind?"

And they apparently didn't say what else I used… good. I was so preoccupied with my thoughts that I answered without thinking.

"A little fiendfyre never hurt anyone."

I really should have filtered my words better.

"A little… never…" A hand gripped my collar as a pair of rather irate eyes, shifting into shades of emerald, yellow and orange, glared for all they were worth into my own. "You don't play with that shit. It will kill you. It's Dark magic, for Christ's sake!"

"Don't worry about it, I can control it," I tried to be comforting… though my words apparently came out as too dismissive for her liking. A flex of the witch's arm had my feet attempting to defy gravity. She's getting… stronger.

"I'm going to let that pass as you being the typical little bigheaded ass you always are. But listen to me…" Tonks trailed off into a sigh, releasing me and looking me right in the eyes. "Don't use it again. Promise me."

Shit. "I told you, there's nothing—"

"If you don't ruddy promise me right now I'm shoving you off this staircase. Then I'm not speaking to you for another month."

Son of a fucking… lie. Just lie. "Fine, I promise. No more fiendfyre," My words hurt more to say than I would have liked. What's one more lie on top of a hundred? The thought was bitter.

"Good… good. And don't think I won't bust your ass for it if I see you use it, Tournament rules or not. Hear me?" I knew Tonks well enough to know her aggressiveness was merely a mask for worry, which was the only reason I didn't make issue of the vague threats.

"Of course, my dearest Nymphadora," I offered lightly. Easiest way to get her off a subject is to drop the name.

"Don't… call me—"


The witch grit her teeth and raised an arm, taking a step back to give her room to swing.

She stepped right off the side of the staircase. Shit! The metamorph's eyes bulged wide — quite literally, in her case.

I shot a hand out on instinct, seizing her robes in my left and drawing my wand to fire a sticking charm at my feet. The spell gave me enough leverage to keep us both from toppling over the edge.

"…Alright, I'm letting you off the hook."

"I'm touched," I muttered, pulling her back up to her feet with a grunt. I really need to quit using this damned arm today.

"Just shut up until we're out of this room," Tonks grumbled as the last staircase finally aligned, soon leading us into an upper-floor hallway. "And you've gotten a lot quicker… thanks."

"Don't mention it. I consider it one of my duties in life to deliver you from your own clumsiness."

"Yeah, and one of mine is keeping you from becoming an absolute asshole. Looks like it's a bad job for both of us."

I snickered. "So it seems."

The witch echoed my mirth, nodding. "Yup."

We walked in companionable silence for several hallways, before taking a much more mundane set of stairs. I don't know why they couldn't build all of them like this. That room back there is a mess. To be honest, I had no clue where we were going; I was merely following.

"You look tired," I offered after a moment, a series of sidelong examinations of Tonks' face having revealed bags beneath her eyes.

"You're one to talk. But yeah, I've been up for nearly thirty hours at this point. Just as my shift was ending, I got word there's a big Ministry visit planned for Hogwarts. I offered to take the post, thought I might get to… well, you get the idea."

She wanted to see me…? "You—"

"Of course then the git apparently traipses off to Hogsmeade for the whole bloody day, so I get to follow the stuffed-robes all over the second most secure building in the country for the entire morning. Never mind the fact I've been on my feet all this time, oh no…"

"You poor dear. Shall I draw you a bath?"

"Cut the sarcasm. You're supposed to let me bitch about stuff, then console me. You know, in case you forgot the program."

"In my defense, First-Year was a while back."

"Heh, yeah… you were a lot shorter. At this rate you'll be looking me in the eyes by next summer. Cheeky bugger, growing like a weed."

"Good. I'm quite ready to be looking down upon my less—"

"You've used that line before. Try some original material."

"…Have I…?"

"Yup… oh, here we are," Tonks finally turned a corner and nudged a statue. A doorway slid open, revealing a short passage that opened into a more familiar hallway.

"This is…"

"What, you thought I told you all my secrets? I didn't think you wanted to go near the Gryff's dorms, so we took a little shortcut."

"Much appreciated, but the Astronomy tower?"

"Well yeah. It's always deserted on Hogsmeade day."

Raising an eyebrow, I watched as the Auror ascended the final ladder to the top of the tower and threw open the latch. Great, lets climb a ladder now. Despite myself, I gave a quick glance to ensure Pomfrey wasn't about to jump out of the shadows before hefting myself up.

After I pulled myself free, I must have failed in my attempts to hide my distress.

"This was a bad idea… you okay?"

"I'm fine."

"Bugger that and tell me what's wrong," Tonks muttered, grabbing me and pushing me to sit down on the stone railing. I gave the witch a dark look, though I leaned against a support column and relaxed despite myself.

"I told you, I'm—"

"Harry, you've been wincing and grunting for the last twenty minutes. And, as I recall, you used to go on and on about how that mental shit you were learning would let you block it out. Which means if you're showing it, despite all that—"

She's too damned perceptive. "I get it. But it's nothing to worry about, trust me."

"Will you stop this tough-guy routine and just let me—"

"Tonks, I made it this far without a mother. I sure as fuck don't need one now!" I snapped before I could stop myself.

I never did like people pestering me about my wellbeing.

The witch winced at my words, which made me immediately regret them. Good job, Potter.

"…Yeah, you're right. I just know how you are. You don't give two shits about your health," Shaking her head, Tonks let out a short laugh and sat down on the railing nearby. "Just take it easy for a bit, deal?"


"That's a good boy. Mmm… man, it feels great to sit down. In fact…"

I watched in mild amusement as the Auror pulled off the thick leather robes of her station, then kicked her boots off with a look of distaste. Now wearing jeans and a tank-top, she stretched widely.

"Why exactly did you bring us up here?" I asked after a moment, averting my eyes from her bared midriff.

"I told you, I haven't slept in a ruddy long time, and frankly you look like you need rest. So I'm fixing both our problems," Tonks offered lightly, gesturing her wand at the tower's trap door and prompting it to slam itself shut before flickering gold. Locking charm.

"Wait a minute… you brought us up here to nap? Aren't you on duty?"

"Yup, and Kingsley will probably throw a fit when I don't show up until dinner, but that's fine. He'll understand eventually," The witch continued, frowning as she glanced around before finally leaning forward and reclining against me. The hell is she?

"…I'm not a mattress. What are you—?"

"It's a good job you aren't, lumpy as you are. You need to eat more, all these bones—"

I grit my teeth. "Be straight with me."

"I wouldn't put it past you to get up the moment I fall asleep and wander off. You're resting… plus, I need someone to make sure I wake up before dinner. God knows I don't need another demerit…"

Sighing at length, I finally shifted my weight into a more comfortable position as the Auror did the same. We settled in a few moments, her upper body draped over my stomach. I'd accuse her of being forward, but then I'd never hear the end of it.

"You realize that locking charm of yours is the same one I broke through in First-Year, right?" I asked idly.

"Well, tell you what. If some inquisitive little git walks in on us, you have my permission to say we were snogging. How's that?" Tonks looked up at me innocently.

I'd had quite some time to grow accustomed to this witch's teasing. While her efforts were still fairly effective, I had at least developed a mild resistance. Case in point…

"No one would ever believe it."

Eyebrows ascending into her hairline, the witch cocked her head. "Oh, and why is that?"

"I'm far too pretty for you."

She blinked at me, her eyes flaring emerald, before she simply threw her head back and laughed.

"Oh, I see. Out of my league, huh?"

"Absolutely," I grinned.

"Well, can't blame a girl for trying," Tonks offered playfully, rolling onto her back and reclining against me. "I missed this the most when I graduated, you know. You should have been born about five years earlier."

"Were my father alive, I'd berate him for taking so long to impregnate my mother."

"Bloody hell, how can you talk about that so lightly?" The witch asked, tilting her head back to give me an exasperated look.

"What do you mean?"

"You're so cold about it… don't you… look, I know it's a touchy subject, but—"

"It's in the past. I've come to terms with it." A year in Azkaban, watching their last moments over and over… yes. Damn straight I'm over it.

A significant look crossed her face, though I couldn't quite interpret it. Finally, Tonks merely nodded to herself and closed her eyes.

"I'm sorry," The words came nearly five minutes later — I turned my eyes from a distant warden to look down as my company gazed up at me.

"For what?"

"For cutting you off like that. For not talking to you. For… being a bitch to you," The witch started hesitantly, wrenching her eyes shut and sighing, "I was just worried. And angry, and… alright look, there's no excuse for it, just…"

"You're babbling, Nymphadora."

"…And you're being an ass to change the subject and spare me from having to go into it."

I'm losing my touch. "Am I that transparent?"

"Yeah, you are. But… thanks. I'm still sorry."

"You're forgiven. Happy? You know I'm not one to give that out lightly."

"Heh, that's the truth… thanks, Harry," Tonks whispered, grasping my arms and pulling them around her midsection. "Now, just do your best to be a mattress and I think we'll be in good shape."

She says the most ridiculous things. I thought dryly, though I truly didn't mind. There was a time when she was really all I had in the world… and even now, I wondered if it was still—

"You're thinking too much about something, it's making you lumpy. Just relax," The Auror mumbled under her breath, sounding half-asleep already. I glanced down at her, smiling slightly as I watched her short pink hair begin to darken even as it grew longer.

In moments, a glossy veil of ebony coated her upper body; I knew that beneath her closed eyelids, the orbs would be a deep, oceanic blue. It happened when she slept — I'd learned that not long into my first year. I think I prefer her natural features. I don't know why she was so insistent on hiding them during her school years.

"That's… better, no lumps…" Tonks managed before her head rolled to the side slightly.

"You should sleep more often, Nymphadora. You're much more amenable to be around," I murmured quietly, watching as the witch didn't take the bait. Definitely asleep.

I turned my head to gaze down from the tower. There were a dozen things I should have been thinking about at that moment — and I pointedly ignored each and every one of them. Things will work out. If they don't, I'll make them work out.

My own eyes began to drift closed as I leaned my head back against the support column. Such a shitty morning. Rest of it doesn't look too b

It was at that moment that Tonks whispered something in her sleep and pitched to the side.

I tightened my embrace on instinct, staring in dismay as the Auror made her best unconscious effort to roll off the bloody Astronomy tower.

"Mmm… bugger…" She mumbled before finally going still. I stared at her. …That's probably at least half the reason she made me hang around. I realized, bemused. Definitely not surprised her clumsiness extends beyond the waking hours.

"You're insufferable sometimes," I offered, closing my eyes as the dark glass that safeguarded my conscious began to slowly crumble down.

Almost wish some kid would wander up here… heh… My thoughts ran slower and slower as shifting, silvery strands began to dance behind my eyelids. The Boy-Murderer, curled up with an Auror. No one would believe it…

My chest suffused with numbness, taking away the dull aches as I fell into unconsciousness.

"Take a seat, dear boy."

It was about time.

I had awoken from my impromptu nap with Tonks, and she'd headed off to locate the Ministry's contingent. I'd made a beeline for Dumbledore's office, and ran into him two hallways from my goal. On a shared accord, we'd both said nothing and continued to our mutual destination.

Calmly, I approached the seat indicated but did not take it; I crossed my arms instead.

"I want my property."

Rather than reply, Dumbledore walked behind his desk and sank down heavily into his seat. To my surprise, he fished inside a drawer and withdrew a pipe. Aren't we comfortable.

"You will permit me this old indulgence," The man murmured – I noted it was phrased less a question and more a command. "It has been a… dreadfully long day."

"Babysitting pampered politicians must be an exercise in patience, truly. Now give me—"

"Indeed you are right, Harry. I dare say tobacco is one of the sole remedies of bureaucracy," Trailing off, he poured a sizeable portion of ground leaves into the pipe then tapped it with his wand to ignite it.

"Other than a coup d'état, of course."

"Of course. Now, take a seat and permit an old man a few moments with his nicotine… he's quite a lecture to launch into, as you can imagine."

"Oh, how wonderful. Give me my property back and I might just feign interest," I stated shortly, though I finally sat down — more for relief from my own injuries than for the sake of his commands.

Dumbledore didn't immediately reply; instead, he leaned back in his chair and took a deep puff of his pipe. This man exists to piss me off. I'm certain of that now.

"Tell me Harry… what am I to do with you now?"

He was just asking for it. "Give me back my property, stay out of my affairs and acquire me a portkey to the continent. I'm due a vacation."

"Requests summarily… denied. Though I do commend your spirit," The man replied lightly.

"Listen to me, you—"

"I will, however, perhaps consider the garment. That is a matter for later, however. Firstly…" Trailing off, Dumbledore set his pipe down on his desk and leaned back. Our eyes met, and we must have stared at each other for a full minute.

That was when he struck.

The man's eyes flashed an azure maelstrom before a sledgehammer of purest white slammed into the barriers of my psyche. It galled me to admit it, but I truly hadn't been prepared for it — dark glass cracked, fragments fell away…

…Fires ignited.

My magic surged from my chest, infusing my spinal column with a sensation I'd last felt when standing before a Hungarian Horntail. Dumbledore jerked his head to the side, breaking the connection as I shot to my feet and drew my wand… only to have it blown away by a disarming charm.

Fuck he's fast. I took some small comfort, however, in the way the old man clutched his head with his free hand. No clue what he saw, if he saw anything at all…

"So, do tell me…" I started in a voice soaked in contempt, "See anything worthwhile?"

"Certainly nothing I hoped to witness," The Headmaster replied slowly, lowering his hand and looking up at me. "Though everything I expected to find."

Cryptic bullshit. "Perhaps you expected pink butterflies, rainbows and… oh I don't know… fantasies of flying around on a broom? Some secret adoration for Quidditch or another typical adolescent—"

"Enough, Harry."

"I'd love to know what your Ministry would think of you going around violating the minds of your students. You're no better than a fucking warde"

"Enough! I dare say they'd think no more or less of me than someone who slaughtered the last of his remaining family!" The old man was in rare form tonight. Distantly I wondered if he was just using me to let off some steam after dealing with the diplomats.

"You fucking hypocrite. How many have you cut down, and used someone else's wand to do it?" I spit each word at him like it was a dark invocation. It was the height of folly, perhaps, to challenge him so directly… when my wand was sitting on his desk.

"I do as I have always done to safeguard this world from the likes of what you are becoming!" Dumbledore shot to his own feet, our eyes staring directly into each other. Broken shields were long since repaired; a fiery maelstrom churned behind my eyes and all but dared an intruder to venture forward.

"And you believe you're so much better," My voice shifted into mocking tones, "Actions bought with smiles, manipulated views and misplaced righteousness are so much better than a straight Imperius, aren't they? Fucking Light-blinded fools, dancing to the tune of their puppetmast—"

"You have no right to speak—"

"I have every fucking right! Would you like to know how the Dursleys died? I'll be glad to tell you. You certainly helped—"

Dumbledore's wand shot forward, followed by the brilliant flash of a stunner. The spell struck me flush in the chest, flinging me backwards as my eyes bulged from the sudden assault on my consciousness.

My vision faded to black… before the ebony tapestry caught fire and burned. I hit the ground and rolled, raw Dark magic channeling through my spine directly into my brain stem. Fuck me… if he's winning… I refuse…

Limbs, numb and wooden, slowly pushed at the ground and bore me back to my feet. The old man didn't look especially surprised, though his eyebrows did descend the slightest bit further.

I took a slow step forward, panting as my magic continued to bring my traitorous flesh to heel. Teeth bared from behind my lips, and steel glinted in my hand as a drawn dagger declared its presence to the room's torches.

"Misplaced hatred. Resistance to stunning magicks. The singular drive for conflict with complete disregard for one's own health or the odds," Dumbledore rattled off the statements as if he were listing the charges at a trial. "You are falling far faster than I dared believe."

Sucking in a breath, I squared my shoulders as best I could. The hell is he on about? It didn't matter if I was in no condition to fight, or my lack of wand… or cloak.

Fuck me if I'd ever yield to him again.

"Shall we finish this now, old man?" I asked in a low voice.

Silenced reigned for a moment, save for the crickle-crackle of ice spreading over steel. I hooked my dagger into a reverse grip in my right hand.

"Tell me Harry, what would you do even if you were victorious? You would have nowhere to go, nowhere to run. The Ministry would hound you until the last of your days."

But you'd be dead. "Like I give a flying fu—"

"Nymphadora would never forgive you."

…It was a low blow and we both knew it. I grit my teeth as the bones in my right hand cracked from the sheer force used to grip the blade. …Fuck you. Just… fuck you, old man…

"I had hoped her visit today would have gone some way into improving your disposition."


"Or did you believe a junior Auror would be assigned to such an important role as guarding the Minister of Magic and his entourage? Dear boy, for such a thing to happen… surely an intervention at the highest level would have been required."

He fucking orchestrated it… My teeth were bared in hate, though my silence seemed enough invitation for him to continue.

"Indeed, the Ministry is keen to improve our security with additional flesh and blood guardians. I ensured Cornelius was exposed rather… excessively to the dementors today. And it would be such a small matter to request some of Hogwarts' most recent alumni to join our new Auror patrols…"

He's manipulating me. He's fucking…

"…Of course, it would be an equally simple matter to request the opposite," Dumbledore finished calmly, resuming his seat at his desk and assessing me with a neutral stare.

And I wouldn't see Tonks at all. "…What do you want?" The words were distasteful, and I spit them from my mouth accordingly while sliding my dagger back into its sheathe. Another day… I'll kill him another day. I assured myself slowly, raising a hand to clutch my chest as it began to ache once more.

"You will avoid such… spectacles in public. You will redouble your efforts to assist Neville — in matters more than merely handing off your own burdens onto—"

"Oh? Would you have preferred I let him have the fucking Horntail instead? Your little savior would be a red smear on a boulder right now if not for me!"

"No, I would have preferred you told him of his challenges beforehand!"

"Like I knew we'd be fighting a drag—"

"Yes, Harry, you did know. Or do you expect me to believe that entire disaster of a battle was entered into with no prior knowledge?"

Fuck. "You could have just told him yourself instead of leaving it to your agents!"

"I will not directly intervene unless necess—"

"Oh right, forgive me. I forgot you don't get your hands dirty. What was that Auror's name, by the way? The one that took that fucking killing curse for y—"

"Enough!" The old man gripped his desk and nearly shot to his feet again before he mastered himself.

Cheshire grin, full blast. I took what victories I could get.

"Touch a nerve?"

"You have touched several. Listen to me, Harry. I have attempted to create some semblance of a relationship with you—"

I snorted. What a crock of shit.

"—Regardless of what you may think of me or my efforts. It's become increasingly obvious these attempts are wasted on you," Dumbledore continued despite my interruption, "So, I will treat you as you apparently prefer."

"Oh, this should be good," I quipped sarcastically, crossing my arms and walking over to feign inspection of the myriad devices on his wall. "No more doggie biscuits. What treats do I get instead?"

Brushing aside my barbs, the Headmaster replied calmly, "These are your terms. You will act as I have stated, and you will cease these overt displays of…"

"Dark magic," I supplied helpfully, though my voice was a bit strained. The pain in my breast was increasing with each passing moment, and I turned my back to the old man to hide the clenching of my teeth.

"If you accept, then I will insure young Nymphadora is… favored for patrols. If you do not…" The threat was clear.

"I get it…" I mumbled, opening my mouth and beginning to draw in deep, shuddering breaths. What's… wrong with me…? My heart began to thunder within my breast, and my lungs were… my lungs were…

"Additionally… Harry?"

Vision swimming, my balance failed me and I tipped forward to clutch at the various shelves of trinkets. What's…?

Suddenly, a spike of sheer agony pierced my chest. My legs buckled, spilling me to my knees with a hiss of pain as my arms spilled a dozen devices to the ground. I'm… am I… having a heart attack…?

"Harry!" I heard Dumbledore's chair rustle as he stood, though the sound was distant. Clutching my chest with my right hand, I closed my eyes in some vain attempt to discover just what the hell was wrong. Feels like… something…

It felt as if something was trying to claw out the contents of my chest, starting with the heart and lungs.

Fuck… what's… It was getting hard to breathe, and the thundering heartbeats of before had completely stopped. My flesh grew numb, followed by a surge of energy that spread from my spine and inundated my chest cavity. Fix it… you have to… fix this…

"Tell me what's wrong, dear boy…" The old man murmured, kneeling hesitantly next to me and raising his wand. An attempted diagnostic spell followed, though the caster raised a hand to shield his face from the resulting shower of silver and black sparks.

If I was in a better position, I probably would have laughed my head off at the great Albus Dumbledore failing a spell. As it was, however, I was in no real mood for revelry.

"This must be…" The Headmaster murmured quietly, resting his hands on my shoulders as I curled forward to wrap both arms around my chest.

I could feel my magic within me now, swimming through stilled veins and coiling around rebellious organs. It seemed to take an eternity, but finally the first renewed beat of my heart thrummed in my chest.

A deep, slow breath entered my lungs a moment before a series of hacking coughs wracked my frame. I raised a hand, covering my mouth with each convulsion.

"I will fetch Poppy, stay—"

"You'll… do no such thing… and get away from me…" I whispered raggedly, giving my hand a glance before discretely wiping it on my robes. A rough shove with my free arm put some much-needed distance between us, and sheer defiance forced my legs to flex and bear me to standing once again.

"You should be in the infirmary, we know not what effects—"

The chimera…? "I'm fine, and spare me your oh-so-convenient concern. It's far too little and too late," I hissed out, wheezing even as I forced myself to my full height. My magic seemed to have averted whatever spasm or attack I was having, though judging by the agony that warred with the numbness… I'd be feeling it for a while.

The old man blew out a long sigh before shaking his head. Walking back to his desk, he grasped my wand and simply tossed it behind him — I caught it on instinct.

"I'm weary this evening, Harry. We will speak some other time. Remember my terms."

"I want my cloak, and whatever else you pilfered—"

"It's on the stand near the door, I haven't dared touch it," Dumbledore murmured quietly, approaching an empty perch behind his desk and leaning his head back to gaze upwards. Probably waiting on his bird… wait…

I cut my eyes to the coat-stand near the stairs to his office… and stared dumbly at the item I'd sought. The rack was located such that it was difficult to see upon entry, and… Fuck me… but Snape said… I fought the urge to curse aloud. God damn that man.

"I'll see myself out," I muttered, truly exhausted at this point as I walked over and plucked my cloak from the stand to throw it about my shoulders. Immediately I felt better… though it was an illusion, as another series of coughs soon struck me. Once again, I clutched my mouth with my left hand.

"Indeed. Good night, Harry. Do please consider going to the infirmary."

Not a chance. I thought darkly, descending the stairs and exiting the old man's office. Once outside, I let my shoulders sag for a moment as I slowly walked to an adjoining hallway. The wall of windows to my left let in precious little light due to the evening hour, though a few scant shafts of moonlight pierced the cloud cover.

I raised my left hand slowly, watching as the silvery luminescence revealed a bright crimson stain.

"No weakness," I whispered before checking the collar of my cloak. One, two, three shrunken tomes, and…

I shivered when my fingers brushed the rosary. My power welled up within me, consuming my torso before spreading slowly throughout all of my limbs. The magic was searching, mending, consuming… comforting.

As I set off down the hallway, the runes in my cloak caught the moonlight and glimmered a pale silver. The fabric swelled, shifting on some astral wind and rustling about me with full disregard for the tranquility of the corridor.

What a fucking day.

A/N: Please read and review.